Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Tuesday's Overlooked (or Forgotten) Films: CASANOVA'S BIG NIGHT (1954) starring Bob Hope and Joan Fontaine

Tuesday is Overlooked (or Forgotten) Films Day, a weekly meme hosted by Todd Mason over at his blog,  SWEET FREEDOM. So don't forget to check in over there to see what other overlooked or forgotten films other bloggers are talking about today.

I'm a big fan of early loony-toony Bob Hope, most especially his black and white movies done with the likes of Paulette Goddard, Dorothy Lamour and even, Hedy Lamarr.

I never liked the 'Road' pictures much - except for the Alaska one because if I'm remembering correctly, Bob wound up with Dorothy Lamour in the end. Finally. I never could understand why she preferred Bing Crosby.

Anyway, CASANOVA'S BIG NIGHT is one of two Bob Hope Technicolor costume movies that are a great deal of fun. The other was THE PRINCESS AND THE PIRATE with Virginia Mayo. Unfortunately, both films are marred by stupid 'in joke' endings, but forget about that. Just enjoy what came before.

Here, Bob plays Pippo Popolino, a tailor's apprentice in love with the widow Francesca Bruni (Joan Fontaine), a purveyor of groceries. The setting is 18th century Genoa, Italy and Venice, as only Hollywood can imagine them.

As the film begins, Pippo is up to romantic mischief, sneaking around the widow's house masquerading as the great lover Giacomo Casanova - wearing a mask, of course. He's borrowed the new set of clothes he's just finished sewing for the renowned Italian lover.

He's soon found out when the real Casanova (played by an oddly uncredited Vincent Price) shows up and spoils Pippo's attempt at seduction. Shortly thereafter, three men burst into the widow's parlor and swordplay ensues. It seems Casanova has gotten a little too close with one of the men's wives.

The next day all of Casanova's creditors arrive at his palazzo demanding payment for their wares, including Pippo's boss, the tailor. But the great lover - short on funds - has skipped town. Though not before he's switched his glitzy clothes with Pippo's in exchamge for his boss's horse.

The tradespeople are outraged - they'll all go bankrupt!. But just as soon as they discover they've been left in the lurch, in the front door comes the Duchess of Castelbello (Hope Emerson) and her son, the Duke. (It's odd that no one in the film seems to know how to properly address a Duke or Duchess - but I digress.) At the same time, Pippo is caught sneaking in through a side palazzo window dressed in Casanova's clothes. So, of course the Duchess and her son assume that Pippo is the famed lover.

Somehow, Pippo, despite his foolishness, convinces them they are correct. He is the real Casanova.

The Duchess then offers him 10,000 ducats to go to Venice and try his wiles on the Lady Elena De Gambetta (Audrey Dalton) who is affianced to the Duke. The Duchess wants to make sure that Lady Elena is truly in love with her son. Her son, an ineffectual boob (Robert Hutton) goes along with the plan though any red-blooded, self respecting male would have told his mother where to get off.

The proof that Casanova has succeeded with the Lady Elena will be a petticoat embroidered with the Castelbello family crest. The petticoat was given to Lady Elena by the Duchess - a family ritual.

 Pippo (as Casanova) must get his hands on the petticoat. If he succeeds, he gets the 10,000 which will save the hides of all the tradesmen waiting eagerly back home.

Anyway, a plot is hatched to send the reluctant Pippo, the widow Bruni and Casanova's servant, Lucio (Basil Rathbone who also narrates) to Venice where Pippo will continue to pose as Casanova, the great lover and swordsman - though he can barely hold a sword correctly even after Lucio gives him a lesson in holding a woman with one arm while duelling with the other. Ah, romance.

Pippo and the widow make a splashy entrance into Venice in a fancy gondola, Pippo standing on the prow singing a silly song about love (the film is not a musical) while women throw themselves (one quite literally) at him. It's as if Casanova were an 18th century rock star. Though you'd think his entrance would have been a little more circumspect considering he's just pretending.

When he climbs the balcony into the De Gambetta's Venetian palazzo, he mistakes a maid for the Lady Elena. (I know, you have to role your eyes.) But he is soon disabused of this notion. However the rejected maid tells Lady Elena's father and brother that the famed lover is on the premises and they are immediately alarmed at the news. Nothing must spoil the upcoming marriage - this family is broke as well. Lots of indigent people in this movie.

When the Lady Elena is warned that she must be on her guard because the 'despoiler of women' appears to be in house, she says that they need have no fear. She really loves the Duke and would not succumb to Casanova's charms no matter how practised they are. But her father says that even the mere mention of the Casanova name in connection with hers would be enough to call off the impending nuptials. Disaster looms!

Well, it turns out that the Doge of Venice, played nastily and smarmily by Arnold Moss, wants war with the city state of Genoa. And what better way to cause a fuss than to have Giacomo Casanova seduce Lady Elena, insulting not only her family, but the family of the Duchess and Duke of Castelbello as well.

When the Doge learns of the 'petticoat' plan, he has his men steal the undergarment as 'proof' that the Lady Elena has fallen for Casanova's blandishments.

Long story short, Lady Elena is invited to a ball at the Doge's palace and unknown to her, so is Pippo aka Casanova. Once at the palace Casanova is introduced as if he were visiting royalty - if only Pippo can keep up the pretense. But it's hard to be a renowned lover when you're basically an ineffectual nincompoop. Soon enough, the Doge and his men are suspicious.

Bob Hope and his one-liners are just wonderful in this 'historical' atmosphere what with everyone else playing it straight. At one point in the story he's thrown in prison but escapes with Francesca's help - she is a better swordsman than he is.

Then Pippo's sewing talents are called into play as he replicates the Castelbello Ducal crest onto Francesca's petticoat. Disguised as a married couple, they attend yet another ball at the Doge's palace where they plan to smuggle the altered petticoat to Lady Elena.  Francesca plays the smaller hubby, a soldierly pipsqueak and Pippo in drag plays the rather large wife who can't speak the language.

"Farfel, farfel - Pippick!"

In the end,Francesca and Pippo get together while hiding under a haystack, Lady Elena's reputation remains unblemished, the wedding to the Duke will go on, war is averted and the Doge gets to dance with a rather large woman who flings him around the dance floor as if he were a sack of potatoes.

 Farfel, Farfel, pippick is right.


  1. You have to credit Hope with having his own style of acting, which many have copied since him. He always seemed to be addressing the viewer and that was a novelty.

  2. I never saw this movie but it sounds hilarious! I will have to put it on my list.

    Happy 200th birthday to Charles Dickens, Yvette! I bet you are writing up a post about him right now! :)

  3. I have seen few Bob Hope films but not this one which, thanks to your review, sounds like a lot of fun. I guess, Hope and Humour go together, don't they?

  4. Patti, it was a little bit like Oliver Hardy who used to share his exasperation with the audience.

    I like Hope when he's not totally out of control as he appeared to be in a couple of his films. He can get too silly.

    But his quips are very often hilarious. His delivery could be priceless.

  5. Pat: I already had the Dickens post written up and waiting. :)

    You won't go wrong adding this movie to your TBS list. It really is tons of fun. :)

  6. Prashant: If you get a chance to see this one, I think you'll enjoy it.

    My favorite Bob Hope film is THE GHOSTBREAKERS with Paulette Goddard. I never get tired of watching it.

  7. Fun review of a very funny movie...definitely one of Bob Hope's best comedies of the 1950s.

  8. Thanks, Rick. I absolutely agree about the movie except of course, for the dumb ending. :)


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